One area where we need courage today is in preaching God’s Word and teaching the faith.
The Rite of Ordination:
‘Are you willing to exercise the ministry of the Word worthily and wisely, preaching the Gospel and explaining the Catholic faith?’
If I ever left the priesthood, one of the aspects I would miss the most is preaching.
The challenge, the responsibility, the adrenaline, the privilege.
Preaching is our primary responsibility, our first task: Pres. Ord. 4.
Ordination as Deacon: ‘Receive the Gospel of Christ whose Herald you now are. Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practise what you teach’.
Our mandate to preach comes from Scripture:
‘Go therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you’ (Matt. 28: 19-20).
‘Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhorting and to teaching’ (1 Tim. 3:13).
By the preaching of God’s Word faith is born: faith comes through hearing (cf. Rom. 10:17).
“How are they to invoke Him in whom they have not believed? How are they to believe him whom they have not heard? And how are they to hear if no one preaches him?” (Rom 10:14).
‘Preach the word, keep at it in season, out of season; admonish, rebuke, exhort with all patience and positive instruction’ (2 Tim. 4:2).
‘Always be ready with an answer for those who ask you the reason for the hope you have’ (1 Pet. 3:15).
‘Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel’ (1 Cor. 9:16)
The Fathers of the Church
‘The first of all our concerns is the distribution of the word’ St Gregory of Nazianzen, Oration, 2, 35.
Distribution of God’s word is akin to the distribution of the Eucharist. It is nourishment for body and soul: ‘The laity expect you to bring them food, which means the teaching of the Scriptures. They expect to be fed’. St Athanasius, Letter to Draconitus, 2.
Challenges today in preaching and teaching:
Problem 1: We have forgotten our Apostolic story: ‘the believer is one who remembers’ (Evangel. Gaudium, 13). We are current apostles at this point in time. To give one’s life for something bigger than ourselves. The importance of context. We might not have chosen to be priests at this time but we have been chosen to be priests for this time.
Problem 2: A question of confidence that has been damaged because our credibility has been damaged. Link between clarity and confidence. Clarity breeds confidence.
Problem 3: Do we really believe what we say we do. Story: ‘Preaching in a way that gives the impression we are not convinced of what we say’. Not coming from the heart. Giving the party line. Homilies prepared months ago or years ago. Like serving stale food.
Problem 4: Bad habits – bad diction, mumbling, poor microphones, use of jargon, repetition, etc.
Meeting these Challenges:
1. Knowing who we are and what our mission is. Heralds of the Gospel. The priority of the ‘kerygmatic’ approach and the primacy of grace: ‘God loved us first’. Everything we preach is in the light of the resurrection. The challenge is to ‘re-propose’ the Gospel message in every time and circumstance. We don’t so much preach words but ‘the Word’, Jesus Christ.
‘The priest is first of all a minister of the word of God. He is consecrated and sent forth to proclaim the good news of the kingdom to all…For this reason, the priest himself ought first of all to develop a great personal familiarity with the word of God. Knowledge of its linguistic or exegetical aspects, though certainly necessary, is not enough. He needs to approach the word with a docile and prayerful heart so that it may deeply penetrate his thoughts and feelings and bring about a new outlook in him "the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16). John Paul II, Pastores Dabo Vobis 26.
The Dominican tradition: ‘Contemplare et aliis tradere contemplata …To contemplate and give to others the fruit of this contemplation’ (Thomas Aquinas, Summa theol., II, II, p. 188, a.6).
We must make the word of God our own:
‘The prayerful study of Scriptures and our manner of life are of the utmost importance if people are going to listen to us and obey what we say.’ St Augustine, On Catechizing the Uninstructed, Prol. 2.4.
2. Lack of confidence: Why does a bird sing? Because it has some song to sing. We have something to say, we have a song to sing, we have a contribution to make: ‘Consecrate them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world…I pray not only for these but also for those who through their teaching will come to believe in me’ (John 17:19-20). Brandon Vogt – ‘Clarity breeds confidence’. Preaching the healing and transformative power of God’s unconditional love. If we don’t do it who will??
3. Do we really believe? Preaching comes from our own faith conviction. We must internalise God’s word prayerfully and make it our own. ‘Let me listen to a priest preaching and after 5 minutes I will tell you if he prays’.
‘To nourish ourselves with the word in order to be servants of the word in the work of evangelisation. This is surely a priority for the Church at the dawn of the new millennium’. Pope John Paul II.
The priest must study, contemplate and internalize God’s word until it becomes the very fabric of his being. He must be a living sign of its meaning and power.
‘So then, how do things stand in our own lives? Are we truly pervaded by the word of God? Is that word truly the nourishment we live by, even more than bread and the things of this world? Do we really know that word? Do we love it? Are we deeply engaged with this word to the point that it really leaves a mark on our lives and shapes our thinking? Or is it rather the case that our thinking is constantly being shaped by all the things that others say and do? Aren’t prevailing opinions the criterion by which we all too often measure ourselves? Do we not perhaps remain, when all is said and done, mired in the superficiality in which people today are generally caught up? Do we allow ourselves truly to be deeply purified by the word of God?
Pope Benedict XVI, Chrism Mass, 2009.
‘The priest needs to approach the word with a docile and prayerful heart so that it may deeply penetrate his thoughts and feelings and bring about a new outlook in him’ (Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 149).
The importance of listening and praying before preaching: ‘Some clergy prepare sermons, other prepare themselves.’
‘For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Mt 12:34); EG 149.
4. Good preaching is always results orientated. Clarity of thought and diction. The aim of preaching is not to please people but to change lives.
Pope Francis calls preaching a ‘heart to heart communication’ The Joy of the Gospel. Homilein: to be with others in conversation.. Used in Luke 24 On the road to Emmaus.
St John Henry Newman: cor ad cor loquitor – heart speaks to heart
The Gospel does not echo into a hollow space. By its nature it is authoritative. It performs and works (dabar). It communicates knowledge and power.
The Word of God when preached has a power of its own: ‘So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it’ (Isaiah 55:11).
To preach with the sense of anticipation that God is powerfully at work as we preach. Approach the pulpit with confidence in the Lord’s power: ‘May the Lord be in my heart and on my lips that I may worthily proclaim and announce your holy gospel’.
We preach as witnesses: ‘Today too, people prefer to listen to witnesses: they “thirst for authenticity” and “call for evangelizers to speak of a God whom they themselves know and are familiar with, as if they were seeing him”. Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel, 150.
Having an ear to the people, EG 154 ff, the smell of the sheep.
Bishop Jeremiah Newman: ‘The Church must hold on to its ideal ‘whilst leaning attentively over humankind, listening to the pulse of humanity’. J. Newman, Conscience versus Law: Reflections on the Evolution of Natural Law, Talbot Press, Dublin, 1971, 279.
We preach to our people out of a sense of personal accompaniment and ultimately out of love for them.
Story: did you love them first?? Can’t preach without loving the people. This changes tone, posture and facial expressions.
‘We need heralds of the gospel who are experts in humanity who have shared to the full the joys and sorrows of our day but who are at the same time, contemplatives in love with God’. John Paul II, L’Osservatore Romano, 42, 15th Oct. 1990, 3.
Explaining the Catholic Faith
‘To teach is to touch a life forever’ Nano Nagle.
Jesus is Lord of all parts of life. The Gospel gives us the grace to see life whole (Gregory the Great). Life is not a series of disconnected things or events – our lives are books made up of many chapters that unite into a singe volume. Dante, The Divine Comedy.
‘Everything is inter-connected’ Pope Francis, Laudato Si.
Being teachers of the Gospel presents this vision of the wholeness of life.
Opportunities to preach and teach: schools, universities but also in life, wisdom and a vision of life. People instinctively know if that vision adds up or contradicts itself. The example of funerals as an opportunity to ‘set out our stall’ and present the COHERENT Gospel vision of what life is about.
‘Without a vision, the people perish’ (Proverbs 29:18).
Preaching and Church Teaching:
‘The priest is called to develop a special sensitivity, love and docility to the living tradition of the Church and to her magisterium. These are not foreign to the word, but serve its proper interpretation and preserve its authentic meaning’ (PDV 26).
Priests are to provide opportunities for the laity to grow in faith. To develop and nurture adult faith.
Adult faith formation. Sacramental programmes.
Social Media: Websites, Facebook, etc. Ways of reaching more people with the Word of God: JP II: the new evangelisation that is new in its ardour, methods and expression.
The way of beauty via pulchritudinis. To preach about God’s beauty.
The priest as mediator of meaning. The hell of unbelief ‘where no one has purpose , where the web of meaning is broken’ - Patrick Kavanagh
‘You could translate all this loneliness, this groping, this dreadful bloody buffoonery into Christian terms that will make life bearable for us all. And yet you don’t say a word. Why Canon, arid Canon? Isn’t this your job? To translate?’.
‘Philadelphia Here I Come’ by Brian Friel.
A good sermon is: short, simple, sincere, succinct and substantial
The Importance of Good Communication:
What do people comment on most after Mass? The homily. People expect us to be skilled preachers today. The basic human skills of communication.
‘What is communicated is not what is said but what is heard.’
Am I being heard? How am I being heard? What is my tone? Have I ever recorded myself? Assessed myself honestly?
‘Do I preach in a way that sounds as if the preacher alone has access to the truth and knows what is best for everyone else or gives the impression that there are no unresolved problems or possibilities for dialogue?’
Not to speak 10 feet above contradiction. To have a feel for the social and political forces that shape our world.
The preacher voices the concerns, names the demons. Our task is to help people name their experience and help them to find meaning in the Word of God.
To offer people a word in which they can recognise their own concerns and God’s concern for them.
Priest is a mediator, a bridge. A Pontifex.
Preaching should be Life-giving, positive, challenging, life-loving, opening up new possibilities.
Mary as keeper of the Word of God who pondered the Word of God in her heart
‘Do whatever He (the Word) tells you’.
‘The priestly ministry is therefore faced with two requirements. First of all there is the missionary nature of the transmission of the faith. The ministry of the Word cannot be abstract or distant with respect to the life people live; on the contrary, it must make direct reference to the life of man, each man, and hence must enter into the most pressing questions being posed to the human conscience. On the other hand there is the need for authenticity and conformity with the faith of the Church, the guardian of the truths concerning God and man. This must be done with a sense of extreme responsibility, in the awareness that it is a matter of utmost importance insofar as at stake is the life of man and the sense of his existence’.
Directory for the Ministry and Life of Priests, 62.
‘Only if he ‘abides’ in the word will the priest become a perfect disciple of the Lord. Only then then will he know the truth and be set truly free”. Idem., 62
‘It is therefore important that the priest – within the perspective of the faith and his ministry – be familiar in a constructive critical sense with the ideologies, language, cultural intricacies and typologies diffused through the mass media, and which to a great extent condition the ways people think’. Idem., 63.
‘The faithful should be able to perceive clearly that the preacher has a compelling desire to present Christ, who must stand at the centre of every homily” Verbum Domini, 59.
The following words were written for priests but could apply to all of the baptised called to teach the faith. They urge that we be ‘familiar in a constructive critical sense with the ideologies, language, cultural intricacies and typologies diffused through the mass media, and which to a great extent condition the ways people think’ (Directory for the Ministry and Life of Priests, 63).
We think here of the instruction of St Vincent Ferrer to priests as he encouraged them to ‘speak to the people out of the depths of love and fatherly care…and look after them like a mother’ (St Vincent Ferrer, On the Spiritual Life).
Therefore, in continuity with St Paul we ‘give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhorting and to teaching’ (1 Tim. 3:13).